Community organisations are so frustrated about being unable to get hold of Housing New Zealand staff on behalf of the homeless and vulnerable, one has resorted to driving families to the back door of a corporation office for help.
In April, Housing NZ shut its local office doors to tenants in its 69,000 state houses and members of the public with accommodation emergencies, directing inquiries through a new customer service call centre.
The change lead to 70 fulltime frontline positions being axed. The centre has been inundated with calls, its staff unable to cope and callers facing waits of up to 40 minutes.
Last week The Dominion Post revealed that only 55 per cent of calls were answered during April and 53,000 calls went unanswered.
Its performance has been an embarrassment for the corporation and Housing Minister Phil Heatley.
Community organisations doing housing advocacy say they are being forced to use the new 0800 number and they also can't get hold of Housing NZ staff.
In a letter to Labour, Mr Heatley has said maintenance contractors had to be given an alternative way to contact Housing NZ because they too couldn't get through.
Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans said many families had no home phone and no mobile; there was a constant queue to use the service's free phone.
"Even we can't get through. I'm literally having to drive from my office to their office and, because the front doors are no longer open, we have to go around the back, which officially we are not supposed to do, but I do it because nobody is speaking to us."
Mr Evans said three weeks ago he became so frustrated he took one family with a young child who were living in a car to the back door.
Mr Heatley said he had been assured by the corporation that housing advocates had their own numbers to contact staff. "I would be disappointed if that was not the case."
A spokeswoman for Housing NZ said the call centre was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Customers including tenant advocates are now able to talk to our housing advisers without the need to step outside their front door, wait to get hold of a specific person, or be limited to business hours."
The corporation accepted there were long waits for some people on occasions, which had been frustrating.
"We apologise for that. We are currently working to improve the waiting times including adding more staff and improving technology and are confident of this happening."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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